Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic at the Athens Megaron in 2015. The concert hall has acoustics to rival any in Europe. Photograph: Alamy
Helena Smith in Athens
It was meant to be a paean to Sir Neville Marriner, the British conductor who for a while directed the Athens Concert Hall’s resident orchestra, the Camerata. But, standing on the podium, an audience in frocks and suits before him, Nikos Tsouchlos, the hall’s former artistic director, found it hard to hold back.
With the comportment of an undertaker he cleared his throat. “If Marriner were alive today it would be very hard to persuasively explain to him why this same orchestra has spent the past 20 months without an administrative board,” he said, listing the indignities that have befallen the ensemble in recent years. Even its musicians, he said, had “been brought to the edge of living decently”.
The outburst – moments before a performance by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields this week – highlighted the depths to which culture has been hit in a country grappling with its worst financial crisis in modern times.
Conductor Sir Neville Marriner dies aged 92
The Athens Concert Hall, or Megaron Mousikis, was Greece’s premier cultural institution before the crisis struck. When, in 1991, after a long wait, the Megaron finally went up – its interior decked out with monumental chandeliers, Dionysos marble, American oak and acoustics to rival any in Europe – it was rightly regarded as not only beautiful but among the best on the continent.
“It gave the people dreams,” said Miltos Logiadis, the hall’s artistic director. “For the first time we not only had the chance to hear the Berlin Philharmonic and other world-class orchestras, we could create music, perform in an auditorium like this, make ourselves heard and make ourselves better.”
No other place, he said, had played such a seminal role in educating and sponsoring Greeks in the art of the great classics. “This crisis has been a sudden death, like a war without a fight, a complete catastrophe. And how can a society live without culture?”
Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, Logiadis is a professional conductor recently brought in with Nicholas Theocharakis, a former finance ministry general secretary and the Megaron’s chairman, to turn the body around……….
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